Film review: Hidden Figures (PG)

Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson and Kevin Costner as Al Harrison. PIC: PA
Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson and Kevin Costner as Al Harrison. PIC: PA
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BASed on an inspirational true story, Hidden Figures is a crowd-pleasing drama, which celebrates three brilliant African-American women, who lit the touch paper on NASA’s 1960s space race.

Sensitively directed by Theodore Melfi, who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated script with Allison Schroeder, this life-affirming portrait of determination in a time of bigotry and intolerance strikes every emotional chord with aplomb. Laughter and tears abound, flecked with romance and bravura recreations of key events from an era when men and women of science were literally shooting for the moon as the rest of the world watched in awe.

Selective use of archive footage, including one televised appearance by Martin Luther King Jr, puts this race to the stars in vivid historical context.

“Civil rights ain’t always civil,” one husband sternly reminds his wife, who hopes to petition a judge to allow her to attend an all-white school, so she can obtain an engineering degree.

A glorious ensemble cast, led by the divine trinity of Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, proudly honours the memory of these unsung heroes with emotionally raw and touching performances that resonate long after the end credits roll.

Katherine Johnson (Henson) and fellow mathematicians Mary Jackson (Monae) and Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) work in the segregated West Computing Group in Hampton, Virginia. They are part of NASA’s concerted effort to put a man into space before the Soviets.

Undated Film Still Handout from Hidden Figures. Pictured: Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson and Kevin Costner as Al Harrison. See PA Feature FILM Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Fox. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Reviews.

Undated Film Still Handout from Hidden Figures. Pictured: Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson and Kevin Costner as Al Harrison. See PA Feature FILM Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Fox. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Reviews.

The successful launch of the Korabl-Sputnik-4 spacecraft puts America on the back foot.

“We can’t justify a space program that doesn’t put anything in space!” despairs NASA’s beleaguered director Jim Webb (Ken Strunk).

Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the Space Task Group, desperately needs a mathematician in his team to check computations. Supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) selects Katherine, who is the first African American to work with Al’s crack team.

Many of the experts, including head engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), openly discriminate against her and all of the toilets in the building are for whites only. Al won’t tolerate any distractions and he takes matters into his own hands, loudly declaring, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same colour.”

This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Taraji P. Henson, background left, Octavia Spencer, center, and Janelle Monae, background right, in a scene from "Hidden Figures." Spencer was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best supporting actress for her role in the film on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. The 74th Golden Globe Awards ceremony will be broadcast on Jan. 8, on NBC. (Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Taraji P. Henson, background left, Octavia Spencer, center, and Janelle Monae, background right, in a scene from "Hidden Figures." Spencer was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best supporting actress for her role in the film on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. The 74th Golden Globe Awards ceremony will be broadcast on Jan. 8, on NBC. (Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Emboldened by this show of unity, Katherine, Mary and Dorothy strive for greatness while handsome military officer Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) prepares to woo one of the women.

Hidden Figures richly deserves its three Oscar nominations, including a nod for Best Picture and another for Spencer’s scene-stealing work as a would-be supervisor who intends to move with the times, not be held back by them.=

Henson and Monae are equally terrific as women of fierce intelligence and pride, who doggedly overcome the obstacles thrown in their paths.

Sterling support from Costner and Dunst.

Rating: 4/5

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